As summer vacation hits its peak, we sometimes start thinking about estate planning before we board the plane for that long-awaited getaway.  We’ve put it off for one reason or another but is it time to just take care of it?  Figuring out your estate plan can seem overwhelming but a qualified and thoughtful estate planning attorney will answer all of your questions and help to make it easy.

What paperwork do I need?  Who do I appoint?  What do I need to appoint someone for?  What documents do what?  Do I need a trust?  Over the last few years, we’ve published several blog articles to help you sort through it all.  Here are a few posts that will help you feel more comfortable with the process of completing your estate planning. Continue Reading Is your Estate Planning Ready for Summer Vacation?

According to this report, Pennsylvania has the fifth highest percentage of residents over the age of 65. As the Pennsylvanian population ages, senior citizens face a myriad of issues they may not have thought of or planned for such as living longer than their retirement, increasing health insurance costs, being the target of scammers looking for some quick cash, needing help with their finances and health care decisions, and navigating the confusing world of Social Security and Medicare.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) recently released “A Guide to Legal Issues for Pennsylvania Senior Citizens.”  In an effort to ensure this guide is made available to anyone who may benefit from it, the PBA provides this information free of charge and did not copyright the documents. Continue Reading Legal Issues for Senior Citizens- A Guide

This is Part 3 of a series of posts analyzing the legal issues in the hit podcast S-Town, produced by the creators of Serial and This American Life. For more background, check out the introduction to the series. Although the events in S-Town occur in Alabama, for the purposes of this series, the legal analysis will be based on general principles of law and Pennsylvania law, since we’re Pennsylvania lawyers.

 SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t listened to the series yet and want to avoid spoilers, proceed beyond this point with caution.

Prior to John B.’s death, he tells host and producer, Brian Reed that Tyler Goodson and his brother Jake Goodson are each going to receive some gold when he dies.  He makes various other promises throughout his recorded interviews with Brian about someone getting something when he died.  John also had an elaborate suicide note that he kept on his computer.  He even showed it to Brian during one of their times together.  Surely with such planning, most people would assume John made a Will to ensure his final wishes were carried out.  Unfortunately, once John is dead, no Will is ever found. Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Part 3: Will

This is Part 2 of a series of posts analyzing the legal issues in the hit podcast S-Town, produced by the creators of Serial and This American Life. For more background, check out the introduction to the series. Although the events in S-Town occur in Alabama, for the purposes of this series, the legal analysis will be based on general principles of law and Pennsylvania law, since we’re Pennsylvania lawyers.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t listened to the series yet and want to avoid spoilers, proceed beyond this point with caution.

Chapter 3 picks up after the shocking end of Chapter 2, wherein the listener learns that John B. has killed himself.  It quickly becomes apparent that while John had talked about suicide for years, even keeping a lengthy suicide note on his computer, he did not plan to have his loved ones taken care of after his death.

John B. was the primary care taker for his mother, Mary Grace.  John led people to think she was suffering from some form of dementia, although an actual diagnosis is never given.  When John dies, someone had to care for Mary Grace.  There was a battle between Tyler Goodson, a younger friend and sometime employee of John and Rita and Charlie, cousins of John.  At first listen, Tyler seems to be the reasonable choice.  He knows Mary Grace well, seeing her almost daily.  He had been helping John B. around the property for years.  Tyler considered Mary Grace to be part of his family, even referring to her as Mama.  Rita and Charlie on the other hand, seem to appear out of nowhere and now want to take over Mary Grace’s care.  While the listener is given both sides of the story, it is never clear who has pure motives or who is trying to take advantage of Mary Grace.  Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Part 2: Power of Attorney

Confession: my introduction to the legal profession started at a relatively young age, reading the popular novels by John Grisham. Of course, just like the Hollywood depictions of legal practice, Grisham’s books didn’t exactly give an accurate portrayal of the day-to-day duties of a lawyer. Fortunately for me, though my interest was piqued by those books, I quickly learned that other skills, including critical thinking and problem-solving, would be essential to my success as an attorney. I also learned that the best way to develop those skills is through reading and legal writing, which occupies the majority of my time in law practice. Continue Reading Legal Documents and Avoiding Costly Mistakes

According to Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation fame, “the three most useless jobs in the world are, in order, lawyer, congressman, and doctor.” While Ron Swanson may be my favorite television character of all time, I, of course, beg to differ with this assessment.

The above quote comes from Season 6 of Parks and Recreation, and the context is a discussion about the value of having a Will drafted by a lawyer. Ron proudly presents his Will which was handwritten by himself at age 8 on a yellow piece of notebook paper.

The Will states:

Upon my death, 

all of my belongings shall transfer 

to the man or

animal who has 

killed me. 

[several weird symbols that only the man who kills him will know] 

Ron Swanson

The burning question: would Ron’s Will be enforceable in Pennsylvania? Continue Reading Is Ron Swanson’s Will Valid in Pennsylvania?

There are a lot of misconceptions and different definitions for a Notary.  In drafting this blog post I found several different definitions, including one from Google that says a Notary is “a person authorized to perform certain legal formalities, especially to draw up contracts, deeds, and other documents for use in other jurisdictions.”  Wikipedia says “[a] Notary is a lawyer (except most of the United States).”  Neither of these are true in Pennsylvania.  So what is a Notary?  Why do you want something notarized? Continue Reading What is a Notary?

I’m sure you’ve heard or used the phrase, “hit by a bus.”  Have you ever known anyone who was hit by a bus?  How did that phrase become the standard for conveying a catastrophic injury?  A staff editor at the New York times offers some explanations here.  Now that you know some of the possible origins of this catastrophic cliché, I will employ it here.  Let’s say for example, you are in your second marriage and have two children from your first.  You are hit by a bus and succumb to your injuries.  You have no Will, but you and your spouse have talked about it and you are confident that he or she will follow your wishes.  Those wishes happen to be that your spouse gets everything, but will continue to take care of your children.  Or perhaps that everything will go to your kids.  Or a myriad of other scenarios. As long as you have thought about it and properly communicated it to your spouse, that is all you need right?  I mean you married your spouse, you trust them.  Everything will be fine, right? Unfortunately, more often than not, that is wrong.

Trusting your spouse to follow through with your wishes does not guarantee that your wishes can or will be followed.  First, sadly, there is no guarantee that your spouse will actually follow your wishes.  Even if you took the extra step to communicate what you wanted to happen with your assets on your death to another family member or trust friend, if you did not draft a Will, there is no way to legally enforce those wishes. Continue Reading Second Marriage and Intestacy (dying without a Will)

A fiduciary is a fancy catch all word for personal representative (which is another way of saying executor, executrix or administrator, administratix), guardians, agents, and trustees who are all subject to the jurisdiction of the Orphans’ Court in Pennsylvania.  Orphans’ Court: what is that and how does it apply to me? Unlike Criminal or Civil Court, Orphans’ Court is a court of protection.  The court acts as a protector and supervisor of the rights of those who cannot protect themselves.  This means the court has jurisdiction over things like guardianships, will contests, adoptions, power of attorney issues, and a myriad of other things.  They can keep an eye on agents to ensure they are acting within their fiduciary duties. Fiduciary duties vary depending on the particular fiduciary position a person holds, however the basic tenants are to act honestly and in the best interest of the person or estate you are acting on behalf of or for.  A lawyer can best advise you as to what the exact description of your fiduciary duties are if you ever find yourself in that position.  Acting as a fiduciary is a big responsibility and not one to be taken lightly.  So how should you go about selecting someone to act on your behalf? Continue Reading What is a Fiduciary and How do I Pick One?

“Oh that wasn’t so bad.”  “You weren’t as intimidating as I thought a lawyer would be.” “I’m glad that’s done!”  “Oh how I dreaded this meeting!”

These are all things I have heard clients say after we meet to discuss their estate plans.  For a lot of people the idea of thinking about their own mortality is difficult.  But add speaking with someone else about it and planning for all the what ifs out there? Forget about it.  They’d rather have their teeth drilled without Novocain. But it doesn’t have to be that scary or difficult.  When I meet with clients for the first time to discuss their estate planning documents, I first ask them which documents we are drafting.  I do this because many times people are not aware that a good estate plan starts with three basic documents- a Will, a Financial Power of Attorney, and a Healthcare Power of Attorney/ Advanced Healthcare Directive (for more information on these three documents, check out our blog article The Three Estate Planning Documents You Need).

After explaining all three documents, we determine which ones are necessary for that particular client.  While I usually strongly recommend that a client have all three, there can be situations where one or two of the documents are not needed.  I generally start with the Will.  Believe it or not, in a majority of cases, that is the easiest document to gather information for, especially when my clients come prepared. Continue Reading How to Prepare to Meet with an Estate Planning Attorney